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Posted: November 29, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Leadership in education

Nov. 19 was my second class day in Leadership Newton. Since it was education day we toured various schools and colleges and learned as much as the students we met.

We began our day with breakfast at the Newton County Board of Education. I don’t remember school breakfasts being as delicious as the chicken biscuits we were served — students in NCSS are very lucky. Superintendent Steve Whatley gave our class a presentation about the goals of the NCSS.

Working at the newspaper, I know that the state has consistently shorted the county (and all other Georgia counties) of money they should receive based on a statewide formula, but the numbers are still appalling. This year the board has had to cut $4.5 million out of their budget and institute furlough days. They anticipate more furlough days next year. I should mention that the state cuts were happening before the economy tanked.

Other shocking statistic revolves around the lottery-funded pre-K system. While this seems like a great program on the surface, it is sorely underfunded. Newton receives funding for 480 pre-K slots, yet 1,600 students enroll as kindergarteners.

Every year the school board invites our state representatives to a meeting to listen to their top 10 legislative priorities. However, this year they are taking a different approach. Because of devastating budget cuts, binding charter school laws and flippant tax exemptions the board decided to print their priorities on a pamphlet and distribute 20,000 of them throughout the county encouraging parents and residents to write to their representatives in support of the board’s recommendations. The full list of legislative priorities can be found at http://www.covnews.com/news/article/9854/.

After Whatley’s presentation we walked over to Sharp Learning Center — the county’s alternative school. I have to say that while this school and its students often get the worst rep in the county, the class change was one of the quietest and efficient I have experienced, even in my own education. We were all impressed with our student guide as well as Principal Gabriel Burnette.

We then toured Ficquett Elementary School — one of the county’s oldest schools. Because of the school’s age, it is not equipped with much of the technology standard in newer schools. We watched a demonstration an ActiveBoard, which is sort of an interactive white board. The students go absolutely crazy for this technology. Anything that makes learning fun should be in every classroom. Unfortunately, Ficquett only has two.

Newton High was our last stop for the NCSS. Many of our class and committee members had fun reminiscing about roaming the halls of NHS and commented how much cleaner the floors were with tiles. Students in the student government took us on tours of the giant school.

My favorite part was visiting a business entrepreneurship class. Students chose a business at the beginning of the year and were showcasing their products. They had made a variety of baked goods including one girl who made a gorgeous pink and green sorority-themed cake. One student was performing a haircut since he aspired to be a barber. The students were engaged and looked like they were having a great time while gaining skills that will help them in the work force.

Shane’s Rib Shack catered a wonderful lunch for us at DeKalb Technical College where we heard from representatives of DeKalb as well as Troy University. I am very proud of DeKalb Tech’s efforts to create a public safety academy in the county and Troy is a familiar face from Alabama.

Being from Alabama, I was surprised to learn that anyone can apply for a HOPE scholarship, even if they have a doctorate. Learning this inspired me to buy my first lottery ticket. I didn’t win anything, but at least I know some of the money is going toward a good cause.

We then toured Georgia Perimeter College and Oxford College. These campuses are county jewels. Georgia Perimeter College will continue to grow and create jobs for the county well into the century. GPC is bursting at the seems and needs friendly contributions so it can continue to meet student demand. Oxford is leading the way in technology and innovation as well with the county’s first LEED-certified building.

Newton County has many brilliant minds and upon seeing all the educational opportunities within its borders, I’m certain that it will continue to cultivate the brightest scholars in Georgia.

Jennifer T. Long is the editor of The Covington News and a member of the 2009-2010 class of the Leadership Newton.

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